Wrongful death: staff of a Customs agent suffocates at PICT

KARACHI: It’s not just the container terminals; in Pakistan personnel safety at workplace is still secondary. Even the big businesses find it good enough to just place health/safety posters at workplaces sans proper training and availability of equipment.

A Customs clearing agent staff Zaheer Abbas lost his life as he was exposed to toxic fumes at Pakistan International Container Terminal (PICT). A DG (dangerous goods) container was grounded at PICTfor plant protection certification (PPRO) sampling. The unfortunate staff Zaheer Abbas was sent to collect the samples by the importer and since the pesticides container was full of toxic fumes, Zaheer fainted in the container in such a position that he could not be seen from outside. The PICT staff sealed the gate without knowing presence of a staff in the container and after two days, the mutilated corpse was found.

An official said that DG (dangerous goods) containers, all over the world, were placed at a separate yard at the container terminals to ensure security. However, container terminals in Pakistan including PICT do not have any such practice. Containers stuffed with hazardous goods, toxic chemicals, explosives are handled and processed at same place with other goods including the edibles.

Moreover, there is no standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling such cargo at terminals. Terminals operators, Customs clearing agencies and even the Customs authorities do not ensure personnel health and safety dealing with hazardous goods. Staff handling chemicals, explosives and other dangerous goods are rarely seen using protective gears and gas masks at container terminals.

Meanwhile, PICT in a condolence letter to Customs agents association noted the association should provide necessary safety awareness to their staff before assigning them to handle dangerous goods.

An official said the family of Zaheer Abbas should be duly compensated by the terminal operator, Customs agent and Plant Protection department for wrongful death.

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